Tag Archives: Garibaldi Provincial Park

Celebrating Whistler’s Olympic Milestones

Over the coming weeks, there will be plenty of opportunities in Whistler to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games (including the Whistler Museum’s next temporary exhibit highlighting the volunteers of the Games, opening Friday, February 28!).  While many people may still be wondering how a decade has passed, this week we took a look even further back, to when the first Olympic bid was submitted by the Garibaldi Olympic Development Association (GODA) sixty years ago.

Following the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California, a group from Vancouver very quickly organized a committee to explore the idea of hosting the Games in the Garibaldi Park region.  The California Games ended on February 28, and in March GODA invited Sidney Dawes, the Canadian representative to the International Olympic Committee, to assist in the search for an Olympic venue. Cliff Fenner, the Park Supervisor for Garibaldi Park, also assisted in the search, which included reconnaissance flights, snowmobile explorations, and test skiers.  London Mountain (now known as Whistler Mountain) was chosen as “a highly desirable area”, and by November 1960 GODA had put together a bid for the 1968 Olympic Winter Games which would have seen all events take place within the Whistler valley.

A group heads out to explore Garibaldi Park in search of an Olympic site, 1960. Cliff Fenner Collection

Creating a bid for the chosen site meant planning to build an entire Olympic site from scratch.  Alta Lake, as the area was known at the time, was comprised of a few lodges, summer cabins, and logging operations.  The valley was accessible by rail and courageous drivers could make their way up via service roads in the summer.  According to the 1968 bid book, prior to exploring possible Olympic sites, the provincial government had already spoken publicly of extended the highway that ran from North Vancouver to Squamish further north to Pemberton.

Other services we often take for granted today had also not yet reached Alta Lake.  The list of venues and facilities to be built in the valley for 1968 included not just sporting venues, but also a water supply system, sewers, sewage disposal, a substation for power supply, a fire station, and a hospital.

An official pamphlet promoting GODA’s 1968 Olympic bid.

Though the prospect of building all of this was daunting, in the bid book GODA pointed out that it had been done before, for the British Empire and Commonwealth Games that were held in Vancouver in 1954.  As they put it, “Here, too, a project was begun with nothing more than an idea, a desire to hold the event here, and an enthusiasm that made the project become a reality… Given the go-ahead, work will begin to transform the Whistler Mountain area into one of the finest sites ever developed for the Olympic Winter Games.”

This site became the gondola base, today known as Creekside, but before 1965 it was pretty bare. Wilhelmsen Collection

As we know, the 1968 Olympic Winter Games were not held on Whistler Mountain (they were held in Grenoble, France), but that did not mean that all of the work of surveying, planning, and negotiating with provincial powers was for nought.  Instead, GODA formed a sister organization, Garibaldi Lifts Ltd., to develop Whistler Mountain as a ski resort, Olympics or not.

Like the bid for 1968, a tremendous amount of work was done in a relatively short time in order to open Whistler Mountain for skiing in January 1966.  The ideas and enthusiasm of GODA were finally fulfilled in 2010 and, though it took muck longer and looked very different that they had first planned, it five decades the Whistler Mountain area had been significantly transformed.

Lodges of Garibaldi

Hearing the name Alpine Lodge, many people may assume it refers to a lodge located in the alpine or in the neighbourhood of Alpine Meadows.  Alpine Lodge, however, is actually one of the three lodges we have information about that were located around the Garibaldi Townsite.

The Garibaldi Townsite and several other small communities formed in the Cheakamus Valley near Daisy Lake around the Garibaldi Station of the PGE Railway that opened in 1914.  Much of the information the museum has on the area has been provided by Betty Forbes who, along with Ian Barnet, gathered interviews and other documents to put together what Betty called “a record of the history for generations to come.”

Betty (seated on suitcase) and Doug Forbes (third from right) wait for the train at Garibaldi Station with three other couples. The pair visited Alpine Lodge on their honeymoon in 1945. Forbes Collection.

The first lodge, Garibaldi Lodge, was built by Tom Nye in 1014 on the east side of the Cheakamus River.  Like Rainbow Lodge, it included a post office and a store.  The lodge was operated by Tom Nye and his family until the late 1930s.  Garibaldi Lodge was largely inactive during the Second World War until it was reopened by Bill Howard and his father in 1946.  According to Bill, one of the more popular trips they offered was up to Black Tusk by horseback.  As he recalled, “Very few ever hiked it – very few of our guests anyway.  It was a 12-mile (9km) trail that used to go way out by old Daisy Lake.  It took about four hours on horseback to get to the top.”  Often these excursions would be camping trips, with pack horses carrying supplies to stay overnight.

The Howards operated Garibaldi Lodge for only two years before selling to the Walshes in 1946, who later sold the lodge to Pat Crean and Ian Barnbet in 1970.  They winterized the lodge to serve the growing number of skiers heading to Whistler Mountain.

Members of the “Alive Club” outside Alpine Lodge in 1979. Forbes Collection.

Alpine Lodge, further along the Cheakamus River, was built by the Cranes in 1922.  A store was later added in 1926 and a post office.  Alpine Lodge was operated by members of the Crane family through the 1940s.  In 1970 it was bought by Doug and Diane McDonald and, like Garibaldi Lodge, was winterized.  Both lodges appear in hotel directories in publications such as Garibaldi’s Whistler News from the 1970s.

A third lodge, Lake Lucille Lodge, did not make it the 1970s.  Built by Shorty Knight in 1929 and close to the lake, it was very popular for fishing.  The lodge went through various owners before it was bought by BC Electric in 1957 and used as a construction camp during the building of the Daisy Lake Dam.  The lodge was burnt down in 1959 after construction of the dam was completed.

Tongue in cheek signs at Garibaldi – Alpine Lodge signs Northbound (l) and Southbound (r).  Whistler Question Collection.

Both Garibaldi and Alpine Lodges were still operating in 1980 when the provincial government issued an Order-in-Council declaring Garibaldi Townsite unsafe due to the instability of the Barrier, a naturally formed lava dam retaining the Garibaldi Lake system.

Despite opposition from the residents, the townsite, which had grown considerably by this time, was to be emptied.  One of the last community gatherings was held at Alpine Lodge.  As Betty Forbes recalled, “The McDonalds at Alpine Lodge opened their whole lobby, kitchen, and dining to the residents of Garibaldi for a pot-luck supper…  It was rather lake a wake, but it was a happy wake.”

Garibaldi Lodge was sold to the government in 1982 and most of the structures were destroyed (one cabin was moved to Pinecrest).  Alpine Lodge followed the same fate in 1986.

While the museum has transcripts of oral-history interviews and various photos, it is difficult to create a cohesive history of Garibaldi.  Recently, however, Victoria Crompton took over the project from Betty Forbes and Ian Barnet and has now published a book, Garibaldi Townsite: Life & Times, for those interested in learning more about the area.

Settling on Wedge

With the successful completion of the Himmelsbach Hut in 1968, the British Columbia Mountaineering Club (BCMC) began looking for another location to build a Gothic arch hut near Whistler.  They already had a couple of ideas for their next location; one was near Mt. Trorrey along the Spearhead Traverse, the other was an alpine meadow on Mount Brew.  The BCMC decided to ask the mountaineering community for suggestions and advertised through a mountaineering paper and a few leaflets.

Werner Himmelsbach recalled, “So this logger, he contacted me and said, ‘I hiked up the peak beside Wedge Mountain and I saw a nice lake don below,’ so I thought that would be a place.”

The Himmelsbach Hut, named for Werner Himmelsbach, as it appears nowadays. Photo: Jeff Slack

Werner, along with three other BCMC members, decided to hike up Wedge in hopes of finding the lake the logger mentioned.  “It took us five and a half hours to get up there because we got lost in there because it was bush.”

This exploration of Wedge also involved finding a way across the river as there was no bridge access.  “Wedgemount Lake… was beautiful and when you come over the rise… there is this lake, turquoise colour and the glacier right into the lake,” Werner reminisced.

The idyllic Wedgemount Hut, with Wedge Mountain looming above left.  The glacier has noticeably receded as Werner remembers the glacier coming right into the lake.   Photo: Jeff Slack

The BCMC held a meeting to decide the new location and the vote was decidedly in favour of building the hut near Wedgemount Lake.  At Mount Brew, as mentioned in a previous article in The Whistler Question, the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club would later struggle with their own Gothic arch huts in the 1980s and the Spearhead Traverse would be revisited in the future by the BCMC.

The BCMC was granted building permission by BC Parks on October 9, 1970 and quickly organized a work party to construct the hut over the Thanksgiving weekend.  Werner was away on a trip to the Kootenays, so “master-builder” Manfred was in charge of putting the hut together.  The majority of the hut was built on the Saturday and the finishing touches and aluminum siding were added on Sunday.  The outhouse was built on the Monday but no trench was dug because the snow had already started to fall.

The Wedgemount Lake Hut. Photo: Federation of Mountain Clubs of British Columbia.

Brian Wood, a BCMC member and former President of the Federation of Mountain Clubs of British Columbia, recalled the BCMC assembled a work crew to go back to Wedgemount Lake to complete the construction of the hut in 1971.  When the crew arrived wind and snow creep had pushed the hut off of its foundations.  The crew used fallen logs to help maneuver the hut back into place and attached a couple of guy wires to help keep the hut on its foundations.  The crew dug the pit for the outhouse and the hut was ready to officially open that summer.

The Wedgemount Lake Hut remains a popular destination for hikers, rock-climbers and ski mountaineers to this day.  Because the hut only accommodates eight people. BC Parks has build camping spots and a bear cache nearby.  Reservations are required to camp or use the hut year-round.  If you’re interested in heading out, visit the BC Parks website for more details.

A Hike to Russet Lake with Dick Fairhurst

While some may lament August as the end of summer, it is primetime for alpine hiking. The winter snowpack is completely gone (or nearly so) bugs are becoming less of a bother, and crowds are starting to diminish.

This week we’ve decided to share a series of photographs that were in s photo album belonging to local pioneer Dick Fairhurst. The photo album contains dozens of beautiful images presumably taken by Dick of the Alta Lake valley and surrounding mountains, in winter and summer.

We will likely share more of these images on this blog in the future, but for now we are posting a series of images from a hike he took to the Russet Lake area, likely in the early 1960s.

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Enjoying the view of Black Tusk (back right) from the Singing Pass area.

 

With ski lifts up on Whistler Mountain still several years away, the main access-point to Russet Lake was via the historic Singing Pass trail up the Fitzsimmons Valley. Even though the area had been part of Garibaldi Park for at least a half century, it seems like the “no dogs” rule had not come into effect yet (or simply wasn’t enforced) as Dick and his hiking partner brought along two canine companions.

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Taking a break on the shores of Russet Lake.

 

At this point there was still no formal campsite or mountaineer’s hut at Russet Lake (the Himmelsbach Hut was completed in 1968), but the prospector’s cabin in Singing Pass was still standing. Without a photo of their campsite, we can’t be sure if they stayed at the cabin or pitched a tent elsewhere.

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Hiking around Russet Ridge, close to Adit Lakes. The flanks of Fissile Mountain are visible to the left.

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Hiker standing on the lower Overlord Glacier. Adit Lakes are visible below the clouds on the right-hand side.  

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Hiking above Russet Lake, near where the first instalment from the Spearhead Huts Project is set to be built, perhaps starting summer 2017. The flanks of Fissile Mountain are visible to the left, with Whirlwind Peak at back right. 

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On the summit of Fissile Mountain, with sections of the McBride Range and the heart of Garibaldi Provincial Park off in the distance. Check the feather in that cap!

 

Today, Russet Lake is a very popular hiking and camping destination, which can be accessed via the Singing Pass trail or over the Musical Bumps from Whistler Mountain. Next time you’re planning an alpine hike around Whistler, consider following in Dick Fairhurst’s footsteps!

Mountain Profile: The Table

Of all the glorious mountains the surround Whistler, The Table has got to be  unique.

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Approaching the Table in a helicopter with Pacific Ski Air, circa 1970. Cliff Jennings Photo

This curious flat-topped mountain near Garibaldi Lake was formed when a volcanic eruption burst up through a massive glacier, roughly 10-15,000 years ago. The fast-melting ice kept the lava flow contained on the sides and forced it to cool off and solidify quickly, while the pull of gravity caused the nearly perfect flat top.

Scientists have been able to date it to quite recently since there are no signs of glacial erosion along the sides or base. This indicates that the initial eruption and formation occurred after the great Holocene ice sheets were in retreat, but obviously before they were completely gone, roughly 10-12,000 years ago.

In geological terms, a flat-topped volcano formed through this spectacular interaction between fire and ice is called a tuya. These are extremely rare, being found in Antarctica, Iceland, Siberia, Coastal BC, the Oregon Cascades, and not much else.

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As seen from Panorama Ridge during the 1939 George Bury ski expedition.

The Table sits within the midst of a highly active and scenic volcanic setting, with the Black Tusk, Cinder Cone, Mount Price, Mount Garibaldi, The Barrier, and several other nearby volcanic features. As a whole this area is called the Garibaldi Volcanic Belt, which is considered to mark the northern terminus of the Cascade Volcanoes that follow the Pacific Coast down to northern California.

First climbed by BC Mountaineering Club member Tom Fyles in 1916, The Table’s steep, rotten flanks repel all but the boldest climbers. It is rarely repeated, and prospective climbers are strongly dissuaded from attempting.

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The Table’s distinct flat top can be seen silhouetted in front of Mount Garibaldi.

No, there are no known ski descents. Maybe a local BASE jumper or speed-flyer would like to give it a shot? After all you need to get on top is shoot a rock video.

With such a rare and distinct shape, it’s not surprising that this mountain has made a few appearances in pop culture. The Table served as the world’s most over-sized and epic stage for Canadian rockers Glass Tiger in their 1986 video “I Will Be There.” Make sure to keep watching for the incredible guitar solo on the Table’s edge.

Also, in the sci-fi film Stargate: The Ark of Truth, The Table was used as some sort of underground spaceship base/hangar. We’re not really sure because we haven’t actually watched the film.

Jump ahead to 47:30 for a few more shots of a wild man from the future (past?) trekking around Garibaldi PArk. Presumably the giant flat zone is where The Table used to be.

 

Mountain Profile: Wedge Mountain

On this blog we try to highlight many of the unique characters in Whistler’s history. Being a mountain community, however, many of the local mountains are arguably as familiar as any person.  In the past we’ve set the spotlight on Fissile Mountain; today we shift slightly northwards to Wedge Mountain.

Wedge is an iconic local peak first and foremost because at 2895 m (9497 ft) it’s the tallest peak around. In fact, it’s summit is the highest point in Garibaldi Provincial Park (not Mount Garibaldi, as is commonly assumed), and all of the southern Coast Mountains. To find a higher peak you need to go the remote Mount Dalgleish, 100km to the north west, or to Mount Baker, across the border in Washington State.

Wedge Mountain is visible from just about anywhere in the valley, Rainbow Lodge and the entire westside have an especially clear view. Wedge is the most prominent peak, directly above the cabin in this photo, it's wedge-like shape quite evident from this angle.

Wedge Mountain (at right, above the cabin) is visible from just about anywhere in the valley, Rainbow Lodge and the entire westside have an especially clear view. The mountain’s wedge-like shape is quite evident from this angle.

The origin of the name Wedge Mountain is uncertain, although it presumably describes it’s triangular, wedge-like shape as seen from the Whistler Valley. The name is probably local in origin (like Whistler Mountain), as this name was already in use when Vancouver mountaineers Neal Carter and Charles Townsend made the first recorded ascent of the peak in 1923. When Garibaldi Provincial Park expanded in the late 1920s, a suggestion was made to rename the peak “Mount Vancouver,” but for whatever reason it never stuck.

Speaking of Carter & Townsend, we have already written about their two-week exploratory mountaineering trip to the region in 1923 which included the first ascent of Wedge (blog article here, full photo gallery here, and a virtual video recreation of their climb, using their own written account here), but needless to say, it was a dream trip.

The view south from Wedge to our familiar W-B backcountry: (l to r) Overlord, Pattison, Fissile, Trorey, Davidson, Castle Towers and Decker.

The view south from just below the summit of Wedge,  towards our familiar W-B backcountry. Charles Townsend, photograph by Neal Carter.

Today, most people know Wedge because of the notorious Wedgemount hiking trail, arguably one of the toughest and steepest around. The trail leads up above treeline to Wedgemount Lake and the Wedgemount Hut, built by the BC Mountaineering Club in 1970 under the guidance of long-time local outdoorsman, environmentalist and community icon Don MacLaurin. The hut is of the same gothic arch design as the Himmelsbach Hut at Russet Lake, and many other backcountry huts in the region.

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The idyllic Wedgemount Hut and Wedgemount Lake, with Wedge Mountain looming in the distance, right above. Jeff Slack Photo.

This is as far as most people make it, and that’s more than enough. Summiting Wedge is a far more challenging ordeal, requiring proper ice and rock gear and the skills to use them, but the standard North Arete route is considered one of the classic mountaineering routes of the Coast Mountains. There are also a number of popular steep skiing lines on the mountain, the most popular being the massive NW couloir visible from Highway 99 at the north end of town.

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Wedge’s massive North face. Jeff Slack Photo.

Few places in our region feel as “big” as the high alpine area around Wedge Mountain, but it is just one of many peaks that make our mountainous milieu special. What mountain would you like to see profiled in a future Whistorical post?

The Black Tusk

One of the most distinguishable mountains in BC is the Black Tusk. Visible from many different heights in Whistler and the Garibaldi region, it is often talked about and almost always identified aloud when viewed in any form; people can’t help themselves from calling out “Black Tusk!” when they see it in pictures or from afar. Aside from its distinct and fascinating appearance, the Black Tusk has quite an interesting geological history.

View from the High Note Trail on Whistler Mountain, 2014. Photograph by Trish Odorico.

View from the High Note Trail on Whistler Mountain, 2014. Photograph by Trish Odorico.

In the last two million years volcanoes and glaciers have added dramatic scenery to the landscape of Whistler and the surrounding area. The topography of BC has been continually modified by glacial and steam erosion and the eruption of volcanoes. The Black Tusk, a local volcano that erupted about 170,000 years ago, is a reminder of our volcanic past. The Black Tusk is a stratovolcano, meaning it is made up of many layers of hardened lava, tephra, pumice, and volcanic ash. Centuries of erosion have stripped away its outer cone of bombs and ash, leaving behind solidified lava of its central conduit that now forms its narrow summit spire.

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Photograph by Trish Odorico.

The Black Tusk reaches 2,319 m (7,608 ft) above sea level. Alike to well-known mountains such as Cerro Torre in Patagonia, the Barbarine in Germany, and the Vajolet Towers in Italy, it is a pinnacle, giving it its sharp and unmistakable structure. Pinnacles are individual columns of rock, isolated from other rocks or groups of rocks, that form the shape of a vertical shaft or spire.

The mountain hosts two significant glaciers that start from approximately 2,100 m (6,890 ft) and flow northward to below 1,800 m (5,906 ft). Both glaciers are heavily covered in debris due to the crumbling nature of the Black Tusk’s rock.

To the Squamish people, the Black Tusk is known as t’ak’t’ak mu’yin tl’a in7in’a’xe7en, meaning “Landing Place of the Thunderbird,” while for the L’íl’wat, the mountain is called Q’elqámtensa ti Skenknápa, meaning “Place where the Thunder Rests.” It is said to be named after the supernatural bird Thunderbird. The story goes that the jagged shape and black colouring of the Black Tusk is due to the Thunderbird’s lightning, or as another account goes, by the Thunderbird’s talons that crashed into the peak.

Whistler Museum Collection.

Whistler Museum Collection.